Bringing a baby into the world is a big deal, and once Baby arrives, you’re still working hard to adjust to the new reality of caring for a little one. The responsibilities are many, the daily to-do list long, and the number of stressors you deal with from one moment to the next is large. It’s no surprise that being a new parent can be pretty taxing on your mental health, and, for obvious reasons, often parent’s needs are way down at the bottom of the daily to-do list.
But in the same way that, when flying, you’re advised that in the event of an emergency you should put on your own oxygen mask before putting one on your child, you need to take care of yourself so that you’re best able to take care of Baby. And you shouldn’t wait for an emergency. Part and parcel of taking care of yourself is making sure that you’re not only physically healthy, but mentally healthy too.
Mental health is the sort of self-care that you should definitely prioritize, but you don’t have to do it alone. In fact, it will be much easier for you to be able to do that if you have the support of loved ones around you – whether that means partners, friends, your own parents, siblings or cousins, or anyone you’re close with.
So how can they help?
There’s actually a lot they can do to lighten your load, in ways small and large. They can:
- Be good listeners and offer compassion: It’s important to keep lines of communication open with your loved ones, even if it’s hard or if you want to keep difficult or uncomfortable feelings to yourself. It may be easy to laugh with them about the latest silly thing Baby did, but it can be just as important to tell them what was hardest about your day or what’s really stressing you out. Talk to the people around you honestly about how you’re feeling. Tell them they don’t need to offer solutions to problems if you really just want to vent. They don’t even need to say the “right thing.” They can just be there for you and be patient with you as you adjust to the wild world of parenting. With this in mind they can also…
- Check in with you to ask what you need: Let them know if you do need help – whether it’s to do some laundry, babysit for an afternoon, or to help you find a group therapy session for new parents. Everyone has different needs and these can change from day to day, so talk about what you need, even if doing so feels new or hard. Sometimes when you have a new baby it’s one of the first times in your life you’ve really needed to ask for this sort of help. Speaking of help, they can also…
- Help with household tasks: Laundry folded? Check. Prescription picked up from the pharmacy? Check. Dinner prepared? Check. The sort of things you need done day-to-day can feel tougher to accomplish once a baby is in the picture. But friends and family are often more than happy to help out with these sort of household tasks. While it can be awesome when loved ones jump in and help out without even being asked (which, if that’s your style, you can feel free to tell them you’d prefer they do that – hint, hint), if they don’t offer on their own, ask them for help.
- Encourage you to prioritize your own care: Resting, eating well, and exercising is all much easier if you have extra help and are supported. Speaking of support, they can also…
- Support your choices: Breastfeeding? Great. Formula-feeding? Super. Working from home? Rad. Going back to work full-time? Excellent. What’s best for you might be different from what’s best for other people, and you need the people around you to support your choices.
- Help with childcare: Some of the best help can often be in the form of an extra set of hands to help out with Baby. Maybe you don’t necessarily want someone to prep dinner for you, and you’d really love to do it yourself because that’s something that brings you joy – if only someone could watch your little one after they are up from their nap. Ask for a hand. Or ask them to…
- Babysit so that you can get some time alone: New parents often also need space, so it can be helpful to have loved ones babysit so that you can get in some alone time – you might want to just step away from Baby to take a warm bath or a nice nap, go grocery shopping or run errands on your own without a baby in tow, or even step out to go to the gym, take a yoga class, get lunch with a friend, or take a walk. So ask family or friends who would like to take a turn as babysitter. Chances are, you’ll have loved ones just jumping at the chance to do so. And if you actually don’t want to be alone, you can also ask them to…
- Be good company: Sometimes the last thing you want is to be alone. If you’re desiring some adult company – and after spending a lot of time with your baby, you may be in need of this – see if family or friends want to come over and spend some time with you. You could fold laundry together while your little one plays beside you, prepare a meal together and just hang out, go do something you used to do together baby-free while someone else watches Baby, or get out of the house for a little adventure with your little one in tow – take a walk, grab lunch, run errands, hit up the library, or any number of other things where having good company will make the event that much more fun.
- Check in just to say hello: Again, parenting can often feel lonely, so saying hello with even quick text can make a big difference.
- Take on big tasks: Maybe you have a new piece of furniture that needs to be put together, a room that needs painting, or boxes that need to be unpacked, and it’s just really hard to get around to it because, well, you simply don’t have the free time that you used to. Again, even if it feels hard, ask for help. The worst that your loved ones could say is, “No.” But more than likely they’ll say, “How about next Saturday?”
- Help you connect with a mental health specialist: If you’re feeling anywhere from mildly crummy to extremely stressed, it can be hard to know how to get help to feel better, which is particularly tough when you really need that help. Friends and family can help you out by assisting you when you’re not feeling your best – this might involve calling your insurance provider to help you understand your coverage, looking through a list of providers to help find one that will work for you, calling a mental health specialist to make an appointment, or watching Baby while you attend an appointment.
- Help hold up a mirror to your mental health: Loved ones can also be there to kindly check in with you and let you know when it seems like you aren’t quite acting like yourself or when it seems like something is wrong. If you have a history of mental health conditions, you may even want to have a frank conversation with them while you’re feeling well – to let them know what they should look out for or how they can best help you if you start feeling ill.
Asking for help takes a lot of courage and is a sign of bravery and strength. Truly, it takes a village to raise a child and support that child’s parent. So reach out and ask for help when you need it. And while you’re at it, go ahead and start a conversation with your loved ones about know how they can best support you each and every day of your parenting journey – not only when you ask for help.
- Baby-safe treatments for postpartum depression
- Will your health insurance cover mental health treatment?
- “For friends and family members.” MentalHealth.gov. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, September 26 2017. Retrieved June 18 2018. https://www.mentalhealth.gov/talk/friends-family-members.
- “What is postpartum depression?” American Psychiatric Association. American Psychiatric Association, March 2017. Retrieved June 18 2018. https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/postpartum-depression/what-is-postpartum-depression.